NATICK — Don't toss that pumpkin — unless it's been carved and on your doorstep for a few weeks. There's a good use for the hard-skinned squash: Turn it into jam.
Pumpkin jam is not a staple in most homes, but it's something that Carla Da Costa grew up eating in Portugal. "Pumpkins were used as a vegetable in soups or for making jam," she says, recalling her childhood in a small farming village near Vila Real, in the north of the country. Da Costa, who lives in Natick, makes the jam, called doce de abobora (literally "sweet of pumpkin"), every year from one of the pumpkins in her Halloween display.
She uses only fresh pumpkin, never canned puree. In Portugal, she says, processed pumpkin was not available. The pumpkins she remembers her mother, Ermelinda Portela, cooking were large yellow ovals, which might have been a different variety of squash, but contained the same orange-colored flesh as the ribbed rounds found here. "When I learned English, pumpkin was the translation for abobora," Da Costa says.
While the jam requires only three ingredients — pumpkin, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon juice — it needs a few hours to make. First comes the chore of cutting and peeling the pumpkin, which isn't as difficult as it sounds (it's hollow inside) but requires a firm hand with a chef's knife. The pumpkin-sugar mixture simmers for 1½ to 3 hours; timing depends on the size of the pumpkin chunks, the density of the flesh, and how fast it breaks down.
The jam, which looks like apricot preserves but tastes distinctly like pumpkin, can be chunky or smooth. "My mom used to have chunks in her jam," says Da Costa. She prefers to break up small pieces by mashing them against the side of the pot with a kitchen spoon. Occasionally, she purees the mixture to yield a smooth paste. The pumpkin-to-sugar volume ratio is about two times; by weight, it's about 1 to 1. Da Costa makes a slightly less sweet spread than her mother's.
She and her husband, Venkat Reddy, and sons, Kevin, 6, and Eric, 4, enjoy the jam all fall and winter, spreading it on bread for breakfast or an afternoon snack. More recently, she says, they might eat the sweet spread with hard cheese, just like the classic Spanish pairing of Manchego cheese and the quince paste membrillo.
After the trick-or-treaters have gone, bring in the pumpkins and get to work.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at email@example.com.